Zoe’s on vacation this week, so this is a repost that was originally posted 7/7/08:
As an educator, Woody Allen’s famous line in Annie Hall still haunts me. “Those who can’t do, teach, and those who can’t teach, teach gym,” he quipped to big laughs. As a teenager watching the film for the first time, I laughed, too. I certainly wasn’t considering teaching as a profession back then. No status, poor pay, little respect. Woody Allen was right, and I had my sights set on something important; I went to college pre-med.
Years later, I became an educator despite Woody Allen, but as I said, his line still haunted me: did I become a teacher because I couldn’t do something? I’ve come to realize the answer is a resounding no. I could do plenty of things. I choose to teach because I believe that we must raise a generation with the knowledge, tools, and motivation to create solutions to global challenges and create a better world. I teach because I love inspiring and empowering people to live their lives as meaningfully and positively as possible. I teach because I believe that good education is one of the most important gifts we can give others. I teach because I can think of no nobler, more meaningful, or more important work for myself. I teach precisely because it is the best thing I can do.
Yet, our society still grants teachers little respect, even less pay, and hardly any status. And it shouldn’t come as a surprise that while many brilliant, inspiring, enlightened people go into teaching as a profession, many others go into teaching for less than noble reasons. A few years ago, I learned that a certain state university (which will remain unnamed) accepts people into its M.Ed. program who have a C average from college. I find this disturbing.
We want our doctors and lawyers to be exceedingly smart and well-educated. We expect our college professors to be not only highly intelligent, but also wise. But we don’t have very high expectations of the teachers who will be paving the way for our children’s future on countless levels, not least of which is their passion for and ability to pursue lifelong learning.
I’ve written in this blog that I believe the purpose of education should be to provide the knowledge, skills, and inspiration for people to live sustainably, peaceably, and humanely, but I’ve not written much about teachers. We need to build a society in which the very brightest, wisest, most inspired and inspiring people go into teaching — not just at the university level, but in primary and secondary schools, too. We need to value our teachers the way we value our physicians and pay them accordingly, so that such people are drawn to education, not just to medicine, law, and business.
There is no easy formula for this. But there are some steps we can take:
- If you are a parent, show your gratitude and respect for your children’s best teachers. Let them know how important they are. Share books and websites with them (such as HumaneEducation.org) so they can learn more themselves.
- If you are a teacher, honor yourself. Woody Allen was wrong. Realize the potential you have to make an enormous impact on the lives of your students as well as on the world. Be a lifelong learner, and commit to bringing humane education to your students. Doing so may reawaken your passion for and commitment to your chosen profession.
- If you are an educational reformer, brainstorm ways in which we can begin to pay teachers better and more equitably across communities. Meet with other educational reformers to draft policy ideas and share these.
- If you are a concerned citizen, write letters to the editor, your own blog posts, or simply voice your commitment to education – help build a society which values education and hence attracts more and more valuable teachers.
Our motto at the Institute for Humane Education is “The world becomes what you teach.” We believe that we will build a better world when we teach for such a world. Nothing is more important than the teachers who will do this great work.
Filed under: education, humane education | Tagged: careers, education, educational reform, educators, humane education, lifelong learning, respect, status, teachers, teaching | Comments Off